Its Meryl Magic Once Again, Its Meryl Magic Once Again: August Osage County Premieres At Toronto Internation Film Festival

(L-R) Julianne Nicholson, Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts

A film starring Meryl Streep is (in her aged Margaret Thatcher voice) BOOundd to create a buzz in Hollywood. The question on everybody’s minds is not whether her movie shall earn in millions or get such critical acclaim that its put on a future list of greatest films of all time (of all her films she has taken up, I [in parliament-scene young Margaret’s voice] CAnnot think of any film that can achieve such a status. Sophie’s Choice, currently at 91st position in the AFI list of greatest films, has only been included because of her timeless performance; Adaptation comes close while Cry in the Dark is another work elevated by Streep’s phenomenal acting, and I won’t comment on Deer Hunter because I haven’t seen it), but rather how Streep shall interpret her character or whether she will do enough to sang another Oscar nomination.

 

In my review of Marlon Brando starrer ‘The Wild One’, I compared Brando’s style with Meryl’s, saying that a great ‘Meryl movie’ meant watching Meryl do her movie in the movie itself (the review can be found here: https://sashankkini.wordpress.com/2013/02/26/review-of-one-of-marlon-brandos-most-recognized-movies-the-wild-one/)

 

A competent director (Alan Pakula in ‘Sophie’s Choice’, Spike Jonze in ‘Adaptation’, Sydney Pollack in ‘Out of Africa’) or a fine cast (Tommy Lee Jones and Steve Carrell in ‘Hope Springs’, Clint Eastwood in ‘Bridges of Madison County, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams and Viola Davis in ‘Doubt’) can balance out the Meryl Streep’s King Kong acting talent, but an absence of both can throw the entire film off-balance (one film: Iron Lady, and while her Oscar for Best Actress was deserving, it felt as if director Phyllida Lloyd shot her from the most bizarre and off-putting angles; the cast couldn’t salvage the film either). Meryl is usually brilliant in supporting roles, mainly because she knows she’s not supposed to chew scenery; Kramer vs Kramer, Adaptation, Angels in America, The Devil Wears Prada (she was a ‘supporting’ character; Anne Hathway was the lead) are assured performances that become a part of the film and not the film itself.

 

 

Shape-Shifter, Chameleon Streep

This year, Hollywood bigwig Harvey Weinstein has decided to pitch Meryl’s name in the supporting category of Oscars. The role that’s creating a buzz this year, especially after its premier at the Toronto International Film Festival yesterday, is August Osage County, a film adapted from the play of the same name by Tracy Wells, who won the Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award for his play, and directed by John Waters… oh, my bad – John Wells (had John Waters taken up this film, Streep and Julia would be stabbing each other with garden scissors and rusted knives, and Dermot Mulroney and Benedict Cumberbatch would be deep-throating Abigail Breslin in turns, in a modern version of the wicked, brilliant Pink Flamingoes). But as Barbara Walters tactlessly put in on her show ‘View’, during the interview segment with Meryl Streep and Phyllida Lloyd, no matter who’s directing the film, its Streep who drives audiences and critics to the theatres (the old prune could’ve at least waited for Lloyd to leave before saying this; watch the interview to see Whoopi Goldberg give Barbara a ‘Are you for real, bitch?’ look).

 

The movie holds plenty of talent, with Pretty Woman/Erin Brockovich/Eat Pray Love star Julia Roberts playing Meryl’s daughter, award-winning playwright Sam Shepard Meryl’s husband and Emmy award winning actress Margo Martindale playing Meryl’s sister (folks would remember her playing Hilary Swank’s bitchy, ungrateful, selfish mother in Million Dollar Baby); plus there is Sherlock Home/Star Trek hunk Benedict Cumberbatch, Oscar winning actor Chris Cooper who’s best remembered for playing Meryl’s research guide and illicit lover in Adaptation, Oscar nominated ‘Little Miss Sunshine’ Abigail Breslin, versatile Ewan McGregor, Oscar nominated actress-singer Juliette Lewis, ‘Friends’ guest star Dermot Mulroney (remember his character’s tiff with Rachel’s at their office), TV star Julianne Nicholson and Misty Upham.

 

August Osage County 2013 poster.jpg
Tracy Letts’ play (and I need to kill myself for thinking Tracy is a woman) has been acclaimed for its dark, unflinching portrayal of a family whose lives are torn apart when they (ironically) come together. Meryl’s character Violet is, in Benedict Cumberbatch’s words, a ‘character suffering from oesophageal cancer, smoking like a chimney, high on downers, behaving like the most monstrous matriarchal pterodactyl you can ever imagine’; I’d like to add that she becomes even worse after her alcoholic husband Beverly (Shepard), a former poet, disappears suddenly and is later found dead. Things take a turn for the worse after a disastrous dinner with the family after Bev’s funeral, and ugly secrets slowly unravel. Barbara (Roberts), the eldest of Violet’s three daughters, is a college professor who is separated from her husband Bill (Mcgregor), a fellow professor involved in a relationship with a student; the film’s trailer has Violet instigating Bill by asking him questions like ‘You and Barbara are separated, right? Or are you divorced already?’ and ‘Is a younger woman involved?’ (Meryl’s voice is totally different from her chirpy, ‘I brought you a cake’ tone you hear in her interviews – spooky). Ivy (Nicholson), the middle daughter, teaches at a local college, has a calm exterior but is growing cynical within. She bears a lot of her mother’s shit too; when she asks her mother ‘You supposed to be smoking?’ on seeing Violet light a cigarette, she is told off with the remark ‘Is Anybody suPPOSed to smoKe?’. The youngest daughter Karen (Lewis) pretends she is leading a happy life with her fiance Steve (Mulroney), who soon turns out to be a sleazy sonofabitch.

 

Bill and Barbara’s daughter Jean (Breslin) ‘smokes pot, is a vegetarian, loves watching old movies and it bitter about her parents split’ (sorry, haven’t read the play, quoting from Wikipedia which has strung together unrelated character traits for Jean). Violet’s sister Mattie Fae (Martindale) is just as bitter as her sister, and tries to antagonize her genial husband Charlie (Cooper) and belittle their son Little Charles (Cumberbatch). Lastly, Johnna (Upham) is the Cheyenne Indian housekeeper who, like other characters, is at the receiving end of Violet’s volley of rants, insults and prejudices. She is a mute witness to the mayhem running in the Weston household.

 

Harvey Weinstein has been called ‘God’ (Streep at the Golden Globe), ‘Punisher’ (Madonna at the Golden Globe), ‘Harvey Scissorhands’, Thomas Langman’, ‘Harvey Scissorhands’, ‘Darth Weinstein’ by those who’ve worked with him. There’s a site saying he ‘spliced the work of two different directors’ in The Secret Policeman’s Other Ball and cut 51 minutes of Giuseppe Tornatore’s Cinema Paradiso. His justification is that he wants the ‘shit to work for the audience’. Harvey also has flair for cutting trailers that would lure a wider audience to the film, some of them being deceived when they see a film that’s totally different tonally from the trailers. People were in for a shock when they saw a fragile Iron Lady for have the run-length of the film, as the trailers seemed to highlight Margaret Thatcher’s impressive rise in the Government. The trailers also promised a better film, which as the reviews indicate, was a marketing ploy; now you have people debating all the more whether Meryl deserved to win an Oscar for such a mediocre film.

 

 

August Osage County is a Hit on Stage

While Meryl’s previous film, David Frankel’s Hope Springs, did not involved Weinstein, it had one deceptive trailer that totally gave a slight impression of the film. The film itself proved to be deeper, more involving and poignant than the trailer, which marketed the film as a ‘geriatric sex comedy’. In fact, it was silly to nominate Meryl for best actress in a comedy because the film never aimed for cheap laughs. Frankel’s first collaboration with Meryl, The Devil Wears Prada, on the other hand aimed for tired laughs and had a wafer-thin plot that made Ugly Betty look like the work of Oscar Wilde. The trailer, on the other hand, gave the film a smarter look, promising an enjoyable experience. For Streep, its been observed that the better the movie trailers of her film, the worse are the movies themselves and vice versa. The trailers for her earlier dramas, One True Thing, Music of the Heart, Sophie’s Choice and Cry in The Dark are ridiculously cheesy, but the films turned out good to great.
With August Osage County, Weinstein promises a ‘film about love, happiness, conflict and bond’, at least in the trailers. Smell the shit? Those who’ve seen the play have smelled it from a mile away. I haven’t seen or read Tracy Lett’s play, but a quick read through the plot synopsis of the play on Wikipedia reveals a lot on its tone. Earliest reviews on Twitter praised Julia and Meryl’s performances, a lot. And said a thing or two about the film I can’t remember. Now, with the film premiering at Toronto Internation Film Festival, attended by a beaming Julia Roberts, Ewan McGregor, Juliette Lewis, Dermot Mulroney, Abigail Breslin and Benedict Cumberbatch (who’s got three releases lined up at this year’s festival: this, Fifth Estate and 12 Years a Slave), complete reviews have begun appearing on various media outlets.

 

Here are some of the things we’re getting to hear about the film:

‘… the film doesn’t shed its inherent theatricality, stringing together speeches and showdowns peppered with nuggets of stagey dialogue that resists being played in naturalistic closeup. But it’s nonetheless an entertaining adaptation, delivering flavorful rewards in some sharp supporting turns’ – http://www.hollywoodreporter.com

 

‘There is a powerful cinematic experience somewhere in “August: Osage County”…(but) the end product winds up playing almost like a supercut of Important Acting In Big Scenes’ (C- Rating) – http://www.indiewire.com/

 

‘A vastly enjoyable theatrical banquet, if perhaps not a profound one’ (4 stars) – http://www.telegraph.co.uk/

 

And here’s critics’ take on Meryl Streep’s performance as Violet:

‘looks a little like Bob Dylan in a sour mood…(as) a serial bully who fancies herself a “truth-teller”…Streep is a guarantee you’re going to get both the wild ride and the poignant hangover’ – http://www.telegraph.co.uk/

 

‘like her work in [Doubt], she hits all the elements with a brilliant technique but brings no elemet of surprise’ – http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/

 

‘Streep is at her Streep-iest… she commands the screen and many scenes like she should’ – http://www.indiewire.com/

 

Reviews have also stated that Julia Roberts gives one of the best performances of her career. Predictably, all the reviews haven’t praised the direction as much as the acting, which is the essential feature of most Streep movie reviews. Her star power is unusually big to disappear within a film, I suppose. Maybe if she took a break from movies for a year or two, acted in a few Chekhov/Ibsen stage productions in England (the reason she doesn’t want to take up stage, according to her at least, is ‘her children’ – come on, they’re all grown up!), and then made a low-profile comeback in a Mike Leigh film, she’d lose the a bit of that ‘star’ quality some complain about. You know, like Daniel Day Lewis, who doesn’t even take up plays in his mighty-long acting breaks. But then we’d miss her too much, won’t we?

 

The Meryl Magic Will Remain, The Meryl Magic Will Remain.

 

Links To Reviews of August Osage County:
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/film/toronto-film-festival/10297216/August-Osage-County-Toronto-Film-Festival-review.html

http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/movie/august-osage-county/review/624967

http://blogs.indiewire.com/theplaylist/tiff-review-august-osage-county-starring-meryl-streep-julia-roberts-more-20130909

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